Men, women and children who are obese are at a higher risk of developing urinary incontinence. They also may have other lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). The extra weight carried around a person’s middle puts undue stress and pressure on to the muscles of the pelvic floor. This leads to the pelvic floor muscles getting weak and sagging. This in turn can lead to accidental leakage of urine. Obesity (and being overweight) may also lead to Type 2 diabetes, which causes damage to the nerves that control the bladder.
A person is not overweight or obese when they carry a normal weight or a normal body mass index (BMI). The best way to prevent urinary incontinence, which may start or be made worse by obesity, is to maintain a healthy BMI. You can use the equation in the picture to the right to figure out your current BMI, or you may use this online calculator.
Your healthcare professional can help you find out what is a healthy BMI for you. He/she can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. They should help you find a healthy weight-loss program that will include help on making good food choices, and along with exercise, like daily walks. Your program needs to consider any other health issues you might have. This is why it is important to have your healthcare professional guide you, and you need to keep them informed of your progress.
Healthy Weight Loss Progam
A healthy weight loss can be an important part of reducing the risk of urinary incontinence. If someone weighs 200 pounds, losing just 10 pounds may reduce the number of times a person has problems with urinary incontinence each week. In some cases, losing a little weight can make the incontinence go away completely.
Make sure your healthcare professional tells you what your weight loss goal should be before starting on a weight loss program. You want to achieve a weight that is just right for you. In addition, you want an achievable goal that agreed upon by both you and your provider.
Note: Many people starting a weight-loss program drink diet soda to try to lose weight. This can actually add weight to the middle of the body and it can irritate your bladder – making leaks more frequent. Drinking water is better for you and your bladder. For more information on foods that can irritate your bladder, see Avoiding bladder irritants.
Prevention of Urinary Incontinence
A way to help prevent urinary incontinence, due to the extra weight during pregnancy, is to work with your doctor to have nutritious foods in just the right amounts during your pregnancy and by doing pelvic floor exercises, sometimes called Kegel exercises. Practicing these exercises while pregnant, and then doing them for the rest of your life, can help many women prevent incontinence, even when they are older or heavier.
Making pelvic floor exercises part of your daily exercise – no matter how old you – appears to help a good number of people have better bladder control and prevent urinary leakage.
Men should also incorporate Kegels into their exercise program – these are not just for the women to do! As men age, they may encounter problems with an enlarged prostate, or have surgery due to prostate cancer. Having a strong pelvic floor may be able to reduce the symptoms of urinary incontinence or help them to return to good bladder control sooner.
A recent study has shown that bariatric surgery (a type of surgery used to help a person reduce their weight) lessens the symptoms of stress urinary incontinence. This study also found that the success of stress urinary incontinence surgery in obese women works almost as well as non-obese patients. Surgery to help with obesity or stress urinary incontinence should be discussed with a qualified and knowledgeable surgeon in their field(s).
Medical Reviewer: Diana Hankey-Underwood, MS, WHNP-BC
Diana Hankey-Underwood, MS, WHNP-BC, is Director of the Bladder and Bowel Clinic, Huntsville, Alabama. Prior to that, she was a member of the Alabama Obesity Steering Committee and the President and ExecutiveDirector of Grace Anatomy, Inc. She has been award two National awards: 2007 Nurse Practitioner of Women’s Health (NPWH) ‘Inspiration in Women’s Health Award’ and the 2007 Continence Care Champion (CCC) award.